Flower Of Hope – Episode 39

CAROLINE kept pace with Luke’s long stride along Hathern’s gravel pathways, and they arrived at the door together.

“Come inside,” Luke said, beaming. “I’ll close this before opening the inner one. We have to maintain the temperature.”

They hurried together, through rooms and along corridors, until, in a sheltered and rather humid glasshouse, Luke opened a small case and invited her to step closer.

Then all sights and sounds blurred into the background, for as Caroline peered inside the case she felt time had stopped.

Here were the bright green leaves, just as she’d seen them on a far-away mountainside, so long ago. They were only nosing above the London earth, but they looked strong.

“I know nothing can be certain in this life.” Luke’s voice floated gently overhead. “But I’m hopeful this will be the one to flower first!”

“You must look for gold flecks in the flowers,” Caroline murmured. “They are beautiful.”

Even after a long, long look, she hardly wanted to move. But at last Luke lowered the glass cover.

Conversation between them came more easily as they walked away, as if work had again given them permission to share their feelings.

Caroline, her mind’s eye still dazed by what she’d seen, felt as if her feet might take her anywhere with no effort at all.

Luke’s smiles were for her alone, and she realised as never before exactly what that meant to her.

He stopped suddenly in mid-sentence, causing Caroline to catch one foot and stumble against him. His arm around her to stop her from falling, she looked up and saw why he’d halted.

A lady – her bonnet trimmed with so many ribbons it resembled a haberdasher’s stall – stood immobile and staring from between the trestles laid out between them.

A short, stout man, immaculate in dark suit and tall hat, stood beside her. He looked displeased.

He bent towards Mr Nash, asking loudly who the intruder might be.

Mr Nash took in the situation instantly and calmed the customer with a few quiet words. With great presence of mind, he then introduced Luke to them as “my honoured employer, sir, and the owner of Hathern’s Nurseries.”

The lady looked astounded.

“We thought you were abroad, Mr Hathern!”

“As you see, I have returned,” Luke said, smiling and bowing slightly. “May I introduce Miss Waters? I’m sure you have already had the pleasure of viewing her amazing flower paintings.”

The gentleman moved quickly to shake hands, to cover his evident embarrassment.

“Welcome back, dear sir! I trust we shall have your company soon. You are to visit us at Kew, you know. A long-arranged meeting.”

He paused, one eyebrow raised, waiting for Luke’s answer. Caroline saw Luke glance swiftly in Nash’s direction.

“His Lordship wishes to discuss future plans, Mr Hathern,” Nash said. “With a view to financing the acquisition of certain plants from China. I have taken the liberty of arranging a date for discussions, subject to your approval.”

Luke’s face glowed with eagerness.

“It will be a pleasure,” Caroline heard him say.

All she could think of was that China was so far away. If he went without her she would miss him more than she’d ever imagined.

Alison Cook